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PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS OF THE SENTENCE

A sentence is a group of words that makes a statement and can be followed by a period or other
terminal punctuation.
The principal elements of a sentence are the verb, subject or the verb, and direct object of the
verb or complement of the verb. Many sentences have only a verb and a subject.
Other elements are the indirect object and modifiers.
VERB
A verb is the word or words that describe the action or state of being of the subject.
Rats eat mice. (The verb eat describes the action performed by the subject rats.)
John has felt well recently. (The verb felt describes the state of being of the subject John.)
The organ was often played during chapel. (The verb was played describes the action of the
subject organ.)
SUBJECT
A subject is the person or thing that performs the action indicated by the verb or that is in the
state of being described by the verb.
Trees and shrubs line the driveway. (Trees and shrubs is the subject of the verb line, answering
the question Who or what line? Trees and shrubs line.)
Rare books are expensive. (Books is the subject of the verb are. Who or what are expensive?
Books are. Expensive is the complement of are. Complements are discussed below.)
DIRECT OBJECT
A direct object is the word or words that receive the action indicated by the verb.
Automobiles are polluting cities. (What is the action? Are polluting. What receives the action?
Cities. Cities is the direct object of the verb are polluting.)
The gardener fertilized the lawn and trees. (What receives received the action? The lawn and
trees. Lawn and trees is the object of fertilized.)
The safe was robbed. (There is no direct object. This sentence has only a subject safe and a verb
was robbed.)
COMPLEMENT
A complement is the word or words that complete the meaning of verbs that express feeling,
appearing, being, and seeming. Such verbs are classified as linking verbs. Linking verbs do not
take a direct object. They are completed by complements. Note that all forms of the verb to be
are linking except when used as auxiliary verbs.
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Examples:
He seems sick. (The verb seems does not describe action, but does describe a state of being.
Seems links the subject he with sick, and sick is the complement of seems. Note that it
occupies the position in the sentence that an object would occupy. The sentence He
seems sick can best be understand by imagining that a physician is receiving a report
on a patient's health. No action is being reported, only a state of being. The verb seems
conveys no meaning without a complement. Thus, sick completes the meaning of seems
and is called the complement of the linking verb seems.)
He is a carpenter. (The verb is links the subject he with carpenter, a noun. No action is being
performed. Carpenter complements--completes--the linking verb is.)
She feels fine early in the morning. (The linking verb feels links she with fine, the complement
of feels.)
It should be noted that the verb feel does not always function as a linking verb. In the sentence
She felt the table, an action is being performed, the action of feeling. In this sentence, then, table
is the direct object of felt.
To find principal elements of a sentence:
1. Find the verb or verbs by asking yourself: What is happening? What state of being is
indicated?
2. Find the subject or subjects by asking yourself: Who or what is performing the action
described by the verb or verbs? Whose state of being is described by the verb or verbs?
3. Find the direct object of the verb or verbs by asking yourself: Who or what is receiving the
action of the verb or verbs?
4. Find the complement of a being verb by asking yourself: What element of the sentence
completes the verb?
Note that a verb that takes a direct object cannot take a complement. A verb that takes a
complement cannot take a direct object.
This exercise tests you abilities to identify subjects, verbs, direct objects, and complements. You
may want to review the material presented above before beginning work on this exercise. (The
sentences included certain elements not yet discussed. They will be discussed shortly.)
In the following sentences, identify the principal sentence elements as shown in these examples:
Example: Many dogs have fleas.
Verb

have

Direct object fleas

Subject

dogs

Complement none

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Example: Juan and Maria appeared happy.


Verb

appeared

Direct object none

Subject

Juan, Maria

Complement happy

1. Playwrights and authors receive acclaim.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

2. Libraries contain the wisdom of civilization.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

3. Accounts are busy at tax time.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

4. Buenos Aires has the largest opera house in the world.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

5. Religion is a required course in many colleges.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

6. Eli and Samuel were Old Testament prophets.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

7. Wars have produced death and destruction.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

8. Jane called her brothers and sisters.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

9. The bartender served beer and whiskey to his customers.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement
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10. The house was ransacked.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

11. Burglars were ransacking the house.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

12. Joyce studied German in Switzerland.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

13. She felt the lining of her coat.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

14. She felt well again.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

15. The defendants called their lawyer.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

16. An orderly mind assures success in business.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

17. Transistors have revolutionized the television industry.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

18. A bibliography is a list of books and articles.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

19. Even teenagers are checking accounts today.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement
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20. Professionals in England still wear bowler hats.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

21. The table and chair suited him well.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

22. Matadors are highly respected in Spain.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

23. Many homes now are air conditioned.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

24. Air conditioning cleans and cools buildings.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

25. Although Polish, Conrad wrote in English.


Verb

Direct object

Subject

Complement

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